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This UK Minister Just Kicked Off a Global Disability Summit in Sign Language

Why Global Citizens Should Care
More than 1 billion people around the world live with a disability — and about 80% are living in a developing country. Discrimination and stigma can present massive barriers in accessing education and employment opportunities, and without progress in these areas the whole world is being held back. You can join us by taking action here in support of the UN’s Global Goal for universal health care. 

London is playing host to the largest-ever gathering of people with disabilities, governments, charities, and business leaders as the first Global Disability Summit gets underway on Tuesday. 

And Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s international development secretary and women’s and equalities minister, kicked off proceedings with an introduction delivered in British Sign Language (BSL). 

“For too long, people with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries have not been able to fulfil their potential due to stigma or lack of practical support. Today, we give focus to this long-neglected area,” Mordaunt told the audience

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“This is not just the right thing to do for a common humanity — it is the smart thing to do,” she continued. “When disabled people are included, great things happen.” 

It’s not the first time Mordaunt has impressed with her command of sign language. 

Earlier this month she made history by becoming the first government minister to use BSL in the House of Commons — while shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler became the first member of parliament (MP) to use BSL in the Commons in 2017.

The UK government is co-hosting the summit with the government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance at London’s Olympic Park. 

Read more: This UK Minister Just Made History by Using Sign Language in Parliament

The venue also played host to the world’s largest Paralympic Games in 2012, and was the “spiritual birthplace” of the first-ever organised sporting event for athletes with disabilities in 1948, according to Mordaunt. 

The summit is focussing on physical, intellectual, and hidden disabilities, and is working towards a more prosperous world in which no one is left behind. Currently, about 1 billion people globally are living with a disability — and about 80% live in developing countries. 

According to Mordaunt’s speech, the key areas of focus are: 

  • Tackling the root causes of stigma, discrimination, and abuse
  • Working towards inclusive education and employment for all
  • Harnessing the power of technology, innovation, and assistive devices for people with disabilities across the world

Read more: Starbucks Is Set to Open First 'Signing Store' for US Deaf Community

Having a disability and living in poverty fuel each other, according to NGO Action on Disability and Development (ADD) International. People living in poverty often go hungry, and have limited access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, or health care services.

They are also more likely to live in dangerous environments, in poor quality housing, and are more likely to be impacted by natural disaster or higher rates of conflict. These conditions significantly increase the likelihood of disability through malnutrition, disease, or injury. 

At the same time, people with a disability are also more likely to be trapped in poverty, according to ADD. Discrimination and stigma are barriers to education, to employment, and to being a decision-maker in society. 

According to Mordaunt, in an article written for the Telegraph, half of all children with a disability living in developing nations — about 33 million children — don't go to school. 

Read more: This YouTuber Shows How to Say Different Sexualities in British Sign Language

“We are all starting from a low base — and the UK recognises we also have work to do as well,” Mordaunt said.

Bearing this in mind, Mordaunt also launched a range of policies and programmes with the aim of “championing the rights of the most marginalised and vulnerable people with disabilities.” 

One, called “AT Scale,” will see the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) partner with US AID, the World Health Organisation, the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF, and the Global Disability Innovation Hub, to improve access and affordability for assistive technology (AT). 

At the moment, just 10% of the 1 billion people in the world who need assistive products and services have access to them. These technologies include wheelchairs, prosthetics, hearing aids, and glasses.  

Read more: Comedian 'Humiliated' by UK Train Staff After She Was Forced to Leave Disability Space

The ambition is that 500 million people globally will be reached by these life-changing technologies by 2030. 

Mordaunt also announced DfID’s “Scale Up on Inclusive Education,” which will focus on strengthening inclusive education in countries including Ethiopia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Jordan, and Rwanda — where 12,000 English and maths teachers will be trained in inclusive education methods. 

Another announcement was the launch of the Disability Inclusive Development Programme, a new six-year programme to find out what’s working for people with disabilities, for whom it’s working for, when, and why. 

The aim will be to enable, by 2024, up to 100,000 women, men, girls, and boys with disabilities to access health services; up to 45,000 people with disabilities to increase their incomes; 10,000 children with disabilities to go to school and access education; as well as reaching millions of people through interventions to tackle stigma and discrimination. 

Read more: France's Kylian Mbappé Donates World Cup Earnings to Kids With Disabilities

DfID will also be publishing a new disability framework later this year, to set out exactly how DfID will put disability at the heard of its work. 

“Empowering people with disabilities does not just affect the individuals — it leads to better decisions and more effective outcomes for communities, for nations, and for the world,” continued Mordaunt.

“Unless every one of our citizens can reach their full potential, our nations never will,” she said. “Let today be the start of our journey. Now is the time.” 

Global Citizen is reporting from the Global Disability Summit in London on Tuesday. Watch this space to find out more about how the world will work together to help improve the lives of people with disabilities.